Outline Marketing Strategy

Outline Marketing Strategy plan

The marketing strategy and plan outlines how you intend to attract customers, what you consider to be success and the steps you will take to implement the plan.

As with all plans it needs to be flexible as each strategy will be different.

In addition, it should create a framework which allows for an iterative approach to testing and implementation. There is nothing worse than trying to stick with a plan that isn’t working exactly as expected, so each step should be seen as a hypothesis that needs to be tested rather than a prescription carved in stone.

Most importantly, this is about the customer and what is the best way to communicate with and influence them to demonstrate how you are the best solution to their problems. It should not be a justification of your favourite marketing technique or spend that you have already committed to.

Similarly, don’t stress about the language or the text, it needs to express how you understand the problem and what you intend to do about it, rather than be consistent with the current buzzwords and trends. It just has to work for you.

This document will outline the sections involved, offer some insight into what the section is supposed to include and an example to illustrate how this might work in practice.

Where specific content needs to be expanded on, this will either be included as a sidebar in Italics, reference Appendices or separate documentation.

Section 1. Who is the customer

At the heart of your marketing strategy is the customer. This is the entity that benefits from the work that you do. They have a problem that needs to be solved or a goal that needs to be reached and will seek mechanisms to achieve this goal. The size of the benefit will define how actively they search and how much value they place on the solution.

Your marketing objective will be to influence this entity to act in a certain way, so you need to understand how they benefit and how they search for a solution if you are to craft an effective marketing communications strategy.

In a business to business context, there may be different decision-makers, such as accountants, Boards etc, and these may have different requirements and it can be important to influence these decision makers. However, it is important to focus on the person or role that benefits at this stage as they will be the active buyer and will lead any search activities.

Example

In my case, the customer is a small business owner who is either in the start-up phase or whose business is not growing quickly enough or has stalled. I am not looking to speak to large companies, their needs are different and they have the ability to bring skills into the business. They are local, they are likely to be marketing a service or relatively complex product and probably don’t come from a marketing background.

They are motivated but, being entrepreneurs, their first instinct is to do the work themselves, only going to external service providers once they have run out of ideas or most likely resources and knowledge.

They are independent and have personal objectives which drive the business as much as the normal financial objectives

Section 2. How does the customer benefit from your product or service

Consumer decision making is based on an exchange of values, where a customer gets something they want in exchange for something that you want. In most cases this is a product or service that the customer values in return for money, but in all cases, the perception of the value of the product or service is based on how much the customer feels they will benefit from the exchange.

It is essential therefore for you to understand and communicate how the customer will benefit from the transaction. This is not what you do, it is the outcomes in relation to the goals, benefits and solutions that the customer is seeking.

As an example, if your service saves the customer money, the focus of this section is to communicate how much money the customer is likely to save, not what you do to save them money. To communicate this may require you to offer examples that set an expectation in the mind of the consumer along with social proof.

Think of this as a before and after section, briefly describe the customers situation, desires and goals, and how these will be resolved after the interaction in general terms and in the customer’s language.

This is not the functional characteristics of the product, just the benefits and outcomes.

Example

In my business, the customer is seeking advice, guidance and access to skills that they don’t have in the business. The benefit is assistance in understanding how to create a marketing and sales strategy which will grow their business.

Many small business owners have worked with agencies in the past and found the process to be frustrating. They have seen adwords campaigns generate a lot of cost but little traffic, invested in SEO with no tactical response or create a lot of content with no lead generation. Much of this is because the tactics drove the strategy rather than being part of a consistent and integrated plan.

By working with me the customer creates a plan that they are in control of. they understand why each step is being taken, how it will benefit them and influence their customer and how to measure and improve the plan as we go along.

Most importantly, as they have been at the heart of the planning process they feel confident in its potential outcomes, that it is relevant to their business and that they are not dependent on a third party to do expensive work to make the most of the plan.

Section 3. What do I do for the customer

This is a functional description of the product or service that is provided and the mechanisms that are used to provide it.

  • Is it a product or service.
  • What are the main features that directly deliver the value

This a good opportunity to assess the features and benefits of your product against the customer’s goals and core benefit. Are you communicating products which actually add value or simply reduce a barrier or sales block?

It is also useful at this stage to define what you are not. Feature creep is an inevitable drive, especially in small businesses who feel that they need to meet all of the needs their customers have, but this generally bloats a product and can lead to a suboptimal experience for the customer and inflated prices to cover the cost of product aspects which may not add value to a specific customer.

Example.

In my business I act as a mentor and advisor to help the business owner define and refine their marketing strategy and consider new approaches. During mentoring sessions and workshops we will define who the customer is, how the company delivers value to these clients and how we can convert general interest in a subject into sales through and integrated, online marketing strategy.

Where clients are interested in developing a skill that I have, I will provide access to training.

Section 4. Customer journey and relevant channels

The tactical detail will be outlined later, this is a general outline of how the sales and marketing funnel will be outlined.

Communications channels will be broad, such as social media, display/adword advertising and search marketing but should all aim at providing interested and motivated prospects access to a resource that you control and where they have opted into receiving more detailed, specific and sales focussed information.

This may be following on social media, connecting on LinkedIn, subscribing to Youtube channel or website, where you have the ability to target them with individualised messages.

Customer journey

A potential customer will move from an entity that has a rough outline of a need or problem but no idea how to solve it, through a series of steps until they have found and successfully implemented a solution and is satisfied. This is the customer journey and will be different in each case.

For example, for food shopping it may be as simple as visiting a supermarket and choosing staple products. However, for a more complex product it may be a search for information followed by structured decision making around potential solutions and suppliers, followed by a visit to a website to make an online purchase.

Different customer journeys will impact on how you market, do you want them to call? Leave their details? Visit your retail partners? It all depends on your business model.

Channels

This needs to consider what channels are going to be important in the sales process ( online, shops, referrals, social media etc), what the search intent is, and what your influence should be.

Leads can come from Search, Email, or Social sources with decreasing levels of involvement and engagement. Leads generated by the search will always convert better than other sources as the client is actively seeking a solution rather than responding to a marketing message. Referrals are obviously the strongest, but should be considered as search as they are actively looking for information on a specific subject from a reliable source of information.

Ideally, all of your communications should be routed to and through your website, as this will boost your Search engine rankings and increasing the number of search-based leads.

Buyer intent

Depending on the complexity and competitiveness of the service offering, the intention of the buyer will dictate how you approach your communications at different stages of the journey.

This is where buyer intention comes in. Buyers can be looking for information, to compare products and suppliers or to make a purchase, and how you approach communications is going to change based on this.

At each stage of this process they will require different information and make different decisions, and it is important to understand what those needs are, and how you are going to address those needs and how you wish to influence the customer to move to the next step in a way which is beneficial to both parties.

Example.

In my case I know that the majority of motivated clients are in search mode, and I can use this fact to provide information that will help them identify and solve their problems. I know that most of the searches will be done online, so it’s important to rank well for specific search terms and subjects, so domain authority and backlinks are important. I foster this by creating content that meets their search goals and guides them to more detailed, relevant information within my website.

Where and how this happens is dependent on the audience and where the search is likely to happen.

I also know that, as clients may be looking for practical advice on a subject, that video and how to articles are going to be an important tool.

I might produce an article on how to increase revenue, for example as this is the basic requirement my customer has. This will cover a range of solutions, such as avoiding discounting, increasing conversions, increasing leads, Up-sales and cross-sales, widening the product range etc.

I will host this on my site where it will help drive Search engine ranking, but I will promote the article through relevant social channels, often with a cut-down version of the article, and a link to more detailed information on my site. This may be shared on relevant sites like Quora, Linkedin, Warrior forum, small business marketing forums etc.

However, this is not a teaser, there is enough information in the cut-down post to answer the question for a casual reader, leaving the more interested to follow the link to a more detailed answer.

On my site, I can follow several routes. Firstly, I can link to more detailed information, for example, How to avoid discounting, which will keep people on my site longer, and increase the possibility that search engines will crawl my site.

I may also have more detailed information behind an email subscription wall. This is only likely to attract the most interested buyer, and gives me the opportunity to build a relationship that will progress into a lead over time.

Section 5. Messaging

There are two parts of messaging, one relates to the subject matter you intend to produce content or ads relating to and the other relates to how you want to be perceived.

Subject area.

Subject matter research will be a big part of the implementation phase, but you should already have an idea of the kinds of phrases, questions and queries that are common with your customers. Regardless of what you do, you solve a problem, and want to be found by people who want that problem solved. That means you need to think in terms of the questions they ask, not the way you answer them.

The classic demonstration of this is Holes Not Drills. Someone who is putting up a shelf isn’t looking for a 1200w twin speed drill with tungsten carbide bits. They are looking for “How to put up a shelf”. IF your marketing is focussed on the former, they aren’t even going to come across your messaging!

Outline the main subject matter that you want to communicate about, as this will form the basis of your keyword research later, not matter what approach you take.

What do you want people to think about you?

The word positioning is overused, but it essentially means how your customer sees you relative to competing offerings. This is important as it will help you decide what and how you want to communicate.

Do you want to be seen as cheap and cheerful? Fast and efficient? Knowledgeable and credible? Fun and frivolous? Your communications need to be consistent both in terms of approach, content, voice and channel.

Section 6. Communications objectives – how I plan to influence the customer

This is the broad brush communications objectives

Awareness vs engagement vs action.

Depending on the complexity of your product and your target market, your objective may range from name recognition through understanding more about how you are relevant to the customer and to driving a specific course of action. It may also need to cover all three in a specific order.

Buyer intent.

Where do you think most of your buyers are? is the product simple and commoditised meaning searches are predominantly buyers, or are there many possible solutions to the problem, meaning you need to position your approach compared with others? This will also affect the type of keywords that are relevant to your content work and whether advertising is a viable option.

Actions and Metrics.

What is your preferred outcome? Are you aiming to increase your following on Instagram or Linkedin or do you need to drive specific lead flow? how are you going to measure this and what do you want to achieve?

Approach

What tools and channels do I want to use?

Example.

In my case, I am seeking to increase awareness of my knowledge and experience as an authority on specific aspects of start up marketing.

As my buyers understand that they want to improve their profitability by growing their revenue, but don’t know how to do this, providing Information relating to possible options will best meet their needs.

I will create content that is hosted on my site and promoted via youtube, LinkedIn and Forums to boost my domain authority and traffic to my site and will measure this using Google analytics.

Section 7. Project plan

This is the plan that you need to follow which will lead to achieving your objectives.

This is obviously going to be dependent on what you are doing but needs to start with:

What do I need to have in place to achieve these results and what time frame will I need to follow.

This might be to have a google ad campaign in place by the end of the month which drive traffic to a landing page which can capture lead information on a CRM

What resources do I need

This is a list of the assets and skills that are needed to fulfil the plan. It could be content, writing skills, keyword research, content ideas, etc.

I will need:

  • A list of relevant keywords that I can use for advertising and ad copy
  • Access to a google adwords account
  • A landing page on the website that can capture the lead and send it to me in a way that I can use to action contact with the customers
  • Access to funds to pay for the AdWords
  • Access to a google analytics account to collect statistics and measure success
  • A website
  • A way to respond to the customer that fills in the lead capture form
  • Access to my site to amend the lead capture form if it is not working

If I don’t have access to these resources, what steps do I need to take to acquire them?

This could involve steps to learn or to access external resources for a specific skillset.

1. I don’t know what keywords are going to work, I will research them by doing X, Y, and Z

2. I don’t have the time and energy to learn this so I will work with call google’s sales team and get them to help me

3. My web developer needs to add a page to capture the lead, I need to supply content.

This can then be parsed into a timeline and project plan.

Transactional marketing is dead! 8 expert tips to build strong relationships with your base

Transactional marketing is dead! 8 expert tips to build strong relationships with your base

In a highly fragmented media world, where engagement rates on social media are measured in fractions of a per cent, it’s becoming increasingly important to nurture your clients and leverage existing relationships, especially in traditionally transactional industries.

Lead generation is also getting tougher. Banner blindness has drastically reduced the effectiveness of paid advertising on social media and online channels, whilst increased competition is driving up the CPC of the more effective keywords.

Banner blindness relationship marketing
Eye-tracking heatmap illustrating banner blindness -Viewers no longer look at the ads

Ask any small business where they get their sales from and the holy grail is always word of mouth. 84% of consumers cite recommendation as to the reason for buying from a company.

Word of mouth leads are stronger, more engaged, convert higher and are presold, because they already know who you are and what you can do for them.

Nurturing leads and previous customers also have a significant impact on profitability, by reducing the cost of acquisition for new business

But this doesn’t happen by accident, its a reaction to a relationship that you have nurtured with another client, and based on their experience or dealing with you. And it’s this third party trust that you benefit from as their credibility adds value to your perceived value.

It doesn’t just work for service businesses though, with many of the techniques being adopted further up the funnel, as businesses seek to nurture and cultivate their leads and tie potential leads in before they even make the decision to buy.

This is especially true in the Real estate market, where businesses like Keller Williams are seeking to offer value-added content and services to potential homebuyers regardless of where they are in there buying cycle.

Gary Keller advocates a 33 touch campaign, which seeks to maintain regular, meaningful contact with a database to position yourself top of mind with homebuyers when they decide to buy or sell.

Keller Williams 33 touch campaign relationship marketing

This could be personal, text, phone or email content, but the key is “meaningful” – the content has to achieve two things. It needs to add value to the recipient, such that they want to receive the contact and it needs to clearly position the agent as trustworthy, experienced and professionally competent.

Keller Williams has gone a step further, viewing it’s subscribers as a tribe with specific needs outside of the core real estate products and services, leveraging big data to offer personalised financial products along with home maintenance and design services.

Have a clear brand identity

Before you run off and start blogging, remember that you are building your reputation, so your messaging needs to be consistent with what you want to be known for. Keller Williams Ireland, for example, promotes a two-pronged approach, which positions its agents as being expert both professionally and “Hyperlocally” so that the audience knows that the agent is the authority in selling in a target market.

Marketing content is split equally between building these two facets of the personal brand.

personal branding relationship marketing

Even in large businesses, there is an opportunity to strengthen corporate reputations by building up personal brands. The messaging from a CTO or CMO on LinkedIn will have more credibility on certain subjects than the Sales team for example and can be used to create a much richer picture of the brand and it’s offering that the standard marketing media.

Build a relationship – listen to their feedback and comments

Relationships are built on dialogue, to monologue, you don’t get to understand what your customer’s need or want by talking, and this is doubly so in a highly competitive market place.

From Facebook to email, attention heat maps are constantly demonstrating that we’re blind to banners and other ads, as we seek out relevant answers to our own problems. Voice search is now over 50% globally, and questions are now the major search terms used on youtube and Google.

If you’re not answering the questions that your customers are asking, someone else will be, so you have to constantly adjust your messaging based on customer feedback. Forums’ subscriber groups, comment sections and regular keyword reviews are essential to make sure that you continue to be the solution to your audience’s problems.

Keep regular contact but make it meaningful. People expect it and are willing to accept it.

There is a psychological theory called the “mere exposure theory’ which suggests that we automatically accept and feel comfortable around things we are used too. It’s the reason why certain Christmas songs remain popular even though you’ve heard them 500 times!

Similarly, familiarity with your content will increase the open rate and ensure that people will be open to your messages, which is essential when you start to add more sales-focused CTA’s further down the funnel.

Add value! This is not about you.

This is the key difference between inbound and outbound marketing. Outbound marketing bombards people with messages they don’t want to see, shouting the advertiser’s message to a wide audience in the hope that it might be heard.

Inbound marketing and content, in particular, aim to influence people by providing content that the viewer wants to see.

content marketing influencer marketing relationship marketing

The main difference is the message. Good inbound marketing adds value to the viewer’s life, by providing a solution to a problem. It answers the questions that the consumer is asking, in an engaging and entertaining way, as this ensures that, not only will the recipient get to the end fo the message, but they will remain engaged and are likely to retain 10 times as much of the message

There are multiple markets and make content relevant to them

Regardless of your industry, it’s likely that your customers are not the only people referring you. There is a range of affiliated but non-competing companies that can be nurtured for referrals, but their needs are different, so you might want to communicate with them specifically.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that a small commission will drive referrals, most businesses will generate significantly more from their repeat customers than they will ever earn in commissions, so you need to communicate how they will benefit from being associated with your business, how it will enhance their offering with no risk to their reputation.

Grow your list, not facebooks!

Social Media is a great way to communicate a simple message to a lot of people, but it’s not a great place to communicate a complex and lengthy series of messages.

You want to be in control of your audience and how you communicate with them. A Facebook follower is not a lead, it’s an opportunity to see, and the level of engagement is very low. Social media is another media platform, now more or less so than TV, Radio or the internet, and as a business, you need to be able to pull your potential users closer and closer with time.

An email subscriber is an engaged potential lead, so your aim should be to create online content on your site and promote it via social media, rather than placing the content on the media platform itself, and coupled with lead capture as applicable. Ideally, you want your viewers to subscribe to your site or at least to email.

Reward loyalty and treat your subscribers differently

Your subscribers have indicated that they want a relationship with you, to be more than just a casual visitor. You need to respect and recognise that and treat them better than the norm.

Content should be stratified, dependent upon the level of engagement, from short intro pieces on Facebook and Linkedin to more detailed onsite content, and finally exclusive content for subscribers.

This could be a more in-depth article or a different format, such as a webinar or video content. Ideally, you want to create content that is exclusive to the subscribers, as this recognises that they are more engaged.

This is common in the online marketing services space, where freelancers and consultants offer free one to one consulting to their subscribers, which adds significant value ( and obviously increases the potential for lead generation!) but can work in other segments, especially where knowledge is the commodity.

Make sure this can transfer to a lead flow

Ultimately, this is a business, and your marketing has to work for you.

Don’t forget that this is a process, and its function is to provide selling opportunities in the future, in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible, so you need to pull people down the funnel.

Marketing funnel stages
relationship marketing

Whilst your top of funnel content needs to be highly customer focussed, with limited overt CTAs, you should give them the opportunity to drive the engagement further at their pace. This can be as simple as links to relevant, more sales focussed information, more detailed information on applications or more in-depth lead capture.

As your audience comes more engaged, they are more informed and looking to have a closer relationship, CTA’s can be more overt, and more personal contact.

7 hallmarks of effective remote working

Remote working is often cited as a panacea for everything from work-life balance and staff retention to urban planning and the global environment, but it’s still very much in the minority.

Most remote workers are self-employed, perform roles which occur offsite or only do so infrequently, so why is it that remote working has not taken off in the way that its promoters would expect and what can be done to improve the situation.

For employees, the benefits of homeworking are obvious, more time with the family, less time commuting and the ability to plan out your own working day give you more control and let you match your own daily energy cycles, maximising productivity.

For companies, increase productivity compared with desk-based teams,  staff stickiness and a reduction in required seat space are obvious benefits.

Keller Williams Ireland, who offer shared services and an office-based hub for independent estate agents, was originally set up around a centralised office hub, where agents would operate when not out at viewings.

However, the company quickly found that its remote agents were more effective and happier so is now promoting the benefits of remote working, especially as Keller Williams agents cover a wide geographical area.

So what’s stopping more companies adopting the practice and giving more employees the chance to work from home? And why has Keller Williams found the practice so beneficial?

Overcoming the barriers to remote working

Research in the US, where more than 16% of with workforce work remotely, identified 7 key barriers to successful remote working at an organisational level.

Task specific

Firstly, remote working doesn’t suit every role. Where social interaction and collaboration are key, especially where coaching and development of staff are involved, being centrally located is more beneficial.

Obviously, onsite and travelling roles are very suited to remote working, as do repetitive and simple IT tasks, where cloud-based communications make location irrelevant. 

In Keller Williams case, Agents tend to work from home, whereas management and administration and more effective when centrally located as problems can be solved easier when everyone is in the same place.

Trust and accountability

One of the major barriers to remote working is the legacy command and control culture and ( oddly) emphasising personal accountability, especially within hierarchies. Managers are expected to know what’s going on in their departments and how people are performing, and that’s just easier when you can physically see your team and what they are up to. 

Even extensive use of performance monitoring such as keystroke loggers and decentralised call centre software has its limits, and we’ve all been guilty of believing others are “gaming the system”, which leads to a nagging sense of doubt.

Culture plays a major role in resolving this issue (more on this below), but combining realties trust in your team coupled with effective performance management and accountability are essential. 

Building trust is not easy and it’s a very personal thing, meaning we need to know our team personally and have experienced their integrity before we can fully trust them.

In this case, a progressive move towards remote working, whether following a period of office-based work or splitting time between work and home can demonstrate integrity and honesty allowing trust to be developed and a level of comfort attained. 

The other side is accountability, which again, suits some businesses more than others. Task-based roles work well with high levels of automated metrics which are visible on a hierarchical level.

Call centres are obvious examples of this, where call volumes, duration, outcomes etc. can be seen on a personal, team or organisation-wide level, simplifying accountability and performance management.

The other option is outcome-based pay scales, such as piecework or self-employment, but whilst these are effective in terms of focussing effort and minimising risk, they bring their own problems, and, are as valid for office-based staff. 

Culture

A lot has been written about Culture, with one researcher calculating that there were over 6,000 different definitions of what culture really is!

In simple terms, however, it’s a set of shared beliefs and rules we all follow. We don’t need to be told stealing is wrong, it’s embedded in our moral code from birth. 

This is why culture is so important to trust and management. You don’t need to closely supervise someone who thinks and acts the way you do.

Having a culture of customer satisfaction across the organisation leads to peer acceptance of certain behaviours and rejection of others, minimising the need for explicit rules and regulations and allowing greater autonomy for their teams. 

Keller Williams is built on its culture and strives to reinforce its culture across those who operate under its umbrella. Most of these are fundamental, seeking a win-win solution and putting the customer first being obvious examples, but recognising that others have a valid voice and that we succeed through others show a deeper commitment to collective success, which is essential in building trust. 

What’s important, however, is demonstrating culture throughout the organisation.

Culture is not driven by slogans and posters on the wall, but by the behaviours and stories we experience every day. Everyone has to be mindful of how their actions reflect the culture that you’re trying to build.

And everyone needs to be accountable for actions which breach the cultural norms, no matter where they sit in the organisation.

Effective cloud systems

Cloud based systems have long been touted as the future of modern working, but still, the vast majority of users prefer the simplicity and convenience of desk-based utilities.

Modern high-speed broadband has definitely improved the stability of the systems, but was has really brought cloud-based systems is the ability to perform complex workflows across diverse browser-based systems.

CRM’s like Salesforce and Zoho allow a unified approach to communications, integrating email, social media and VoIP into a single portal improving both visibility of consumer interaction with performance management metrics, simplifying tasks, record keeping and management.

And this is becoming the norm with a host of specialist applications being created to meet the needs of verticals, from healthcare to finance to marketing. 

Keller Williams’ Command infrastructure offers a cloud-based environment capable of performing, automating and simplifying most of the back-office functions needed for estate agency from managing listings and contact databases through to creating and automating emails and social media campaigns and the commercial and financial management of a complex business.

More importantly, these tools can be accessed by staff wherever they are, with both desktop, tablet and mobile versions.

Integrations sit at the heart of the capabilities and functionalities allowing listings to be automatically updated on third party property marketplaces and external accounting packages to be linked and social media campaigns scheduled and posted over linked social media accounts. 

This level of integration also boosts the richness of the recorded data, giving, for example, clear indications not only of how many people opened an email campaign but also who.

Role Specific

There are certain roles than lend themselves to being remote, and some that don’t. Everyone wants to be able to avoid the morning commute, but that doesn’t mean their role can be done remotely.

For estate agents, a remote location makes total sense, most of the interaction is either remote, via phone, online or email, or face to face in the property being sold, so having an office is both expensive and unnecessary.

Wide range of technical knowledge

Unless a role is very specific and narrow, it’s likely that an independent worker will need to fulfil additional tasks which are more generalised, as external support is not available.

Agents with Keller Williams manage their own marketing, listings and financial management for example, as specialist support is centralised. 

The agent needs to both understand what’s required, but also why, as this will aid in motivation and help the agent to operate outside of the ordinary.  

This requires three things

  1. A clear understanding of the importance of the task. What’s the value of the task to the agent and the company
  2. Effective training in the use of any systems involved and the fundamentals underpinning them.
  3. Reinforcement from others that the tasks are effective and worth spending time on.

Loneliness and social isolation.

People are naturally gregarious, so people can become isolated and feel lonely. They can also feel out of the loop, especially if they feel office-based staff are treated better than remote workers. Obviously, regular meeting in the office or social events are a key to any team-building process, particularly for a dispersed organisation, but there are other ways.

Creating virtual teams or giving remote workers an office-based sponsor/mentor, can help to alleviate the sense of isolation, but, as remote staff are often more senior, why not do as Keller Williams does and have remote staff mentor junior staff. 

Not only does this ensure that knowledge is retained within the organisation and ensure that remote staff feel involved in the long term future of the business, but it also reinforces that remote working is a benefit to be earned.

Remote working effectively.

Working from home can be a great way to motivate and improve the performance of staff, but it takes a lot of thought and effort to get right. 

Having the right culture across the company goes a long way to building the trust and work practices needed to work effectively away from your peers.

A sense of community and inclusion is also needed to ensure staff don’t feel isolated. 

Finally, careful job design, effective and connected tools are needed to make sure that team members can work autonomously away from centralised support resources.

You Don’t need a CRM!

Consulting

Does your CRM drive your business or react to it?

Well, that’s not exactly true, CRM ( Customer Relationship Management) software is a useful tool that allows you to centralise your records, manage processes and create a series of analytical and operational reports which let you know what’s going on in your business.

However, they are expensive to set up and to manage and require input and maintenance all of which use significant resources. In one company I met recently, as much as 25% of sales reps usable time was spent just preparing detailed forecasts. So, want to know how you can increase sales by 33%? Get salespeople selling not proving to you they are selling.

The rather flippant title outlines a fundamental truth that must be any the forefront of the decision to purchase and the design and management of the CRM, which is that you need to focus on what your business needs and remember that the CRM is just a tool to deliver on those needs.

  • You need to have a single point of truth for your customer records
  • You need a clear set of processes so each staff member knows what to do to deliver a consistent experience for the customer
  • You need to monitor your teams as a way of measuring and comparing their performance
  • You need the ability to forward plan and see what your pipeline of sales is going to be into the future to let you take corrective action before it becomes an issue.
  • You need a way to track the conversion of inputs to outputs ( leads generated vs leads qualified for example)
  • You need the ability to analyse your customer base and understand differences between customers won and lost, retained and won back.

The design of the CRM has to be able to deliver on these key fundamental business needs in a way which ensures minimal use of resources both in terms of investment and operationally. There is no point putting a system in place that will generate a 10% productivity improvement if you lose 20% of your time keeping it up to date.

Design your CRM around your work

It also has to be usable and simple. No matter how great the database structure, process management and reporting suites of the CRM are, they are useless if they aren’t kept up to date, so build with use in mind. A classic example is field structures. You frequently come across lead records with large numbers of empty fields or where required fields stop reps from entering data, but there is no future use of the data that is supposed to be collected.

If the data collected is not reported on or required for a downstream process, there is no value in collecting it. The usual argument is “we might find a need for it in the future” well, you won’t! If you feel there is value in the information, prove that there is value in collecting the information before you spend time and resources collecting what will prove to be an incomplete data set.

Consider the culture of the business. If it’s action-oriented rather than administration, adding a CRM is not going to change that, you need to decide whether a) a CRM is the best approach, b) whether you need to incentivise usage to modify behaviour c) invest in admin resources to let salespeople sell and still maintain the integrity of the business.

The key thing to remember that, even with “free” CRM’s like Zoho and Hubspot, there is a significant investment to be made in the rollout and management of a CRM, and it is essential that your business drives the design and use of the CRM not the other way round.

Relationship and content marketing are the real game-changers for real estate.

content written

With the rising cost of leads and reduced conversions rates, lead generation is becoming more expensive and less sustainable than ever. But with long sales cycles and limited opportunity for repeat business, is content marketing the alternative?

Real estate is, by its very nature, transactional.

We buy homes so rarely, that we don’t get to know our agents and have little need to remain in contact with them from sale-to-sale.

From the agent’s perspective, therefore, the focus is two-fold. Firstly, getting leads and winning listings and secondly getting as many people into view a property to guarantee that sufficient numbers are willing to bid to get the house. 

The rate-determining steps are therefore lead generation and conversion rates. Mosts leads are still sourced from lead lists either purchased or created through outbound email or coldcalling.

Some agencies such as Castles in Dublin have been very successful with personalised leaflet drops and flyers, leveraging their strength in their target markets and brand awareness in discrete territories.

However, both of these routes are time-consuming and expensive.

Are search and social the answer?

Search and social media advertising is less common, accounting for about 22% of all lead creation, However, targeting at a local level is difficult and produces variable results. General keywords are competitive and expensive. CPC rates around €5 and conversion rates below 2% mean each lead’s costing over €100. 

Either way, each of your leads is going to cost between €50 and €100, and if you factor it conversion rates of less than 5%, that’s giving a cost per sale between €1-2000, which, in the face of declining prices and commissions is not sustainable, especially in Ireland for example, where commissions are down to 1.5%. 

No wonder then that many agents are looking in different directions for their business, but what are the options?

Relationship marketing for estate agents

relationships

Many successful agents are taking a leaf out of the corporate sales book, realising that the two key advantages of the referral are trust and expertise.

The fact that someone we know to be independent has had a positive experience pushes up the trust learning curve with a referral allowing us to reach the point at which we are willing to work with a company much faster than if we approached them cold. 

It also means that we know that the referred contact has expertise which is relevant to us through the discussions with our trusted third party.

Content marketing

Agencies are starting to recognise that content marketing and marketing automation allows them to get over the hurdles caused by long gaps between sales by creating relationship opportunities which will ultimately lead into listings or sales in a more cost-effective manner. 

This means the creation of online communities of individuals who opt in to receiving your communications and are prepared to engage with the content you create.

This is important because recognising that the content needs to be what the audience wants to hear, not what the writer wants to say is a key concept for effective content marketing. No-one wants to be bombarded just with new listing messages!

The platform is important too.

Social media offers a great opportunity to broaden the audience base, but it’s very low engagement, whereas email subscriber bases will be smaller and more difficult to build but will be substantially more engaged.

Stepping into content

Depending on how committed you are to content management and your ROI timeline, you can create deeper and deeper levels of relationships.

That’s the key to success, realising that you’re not selling houses in your marketing, you’re selling relationships. Your audience needs to buy into you before they will buy what you are selling.

The Marketing Funnel

For the company shifting from a transactional to a relational selling model this is the simplest step, as it allows you to start to build a content marketing funnel without losing sight of the importance of a call to action leading to a specific endpoint. 

This approach centres on providing content which is relevant and interesting to the audience, but retains some focus on the sales process. The rule of thumb is that 80% of the content should be pure content and 20% sales focussed. 

This can mean retaining a call to action on all mails or focussing some mails or posts on the process or competitive advantages of the product. The key is the mix. More obvious calls to action or a sales approach will push some people down the funnel faster but are likely to disengage a lot of people. 

Content marketing

Companies coming from a softer, marketing-led background or who have found their funnel approach plateauing, tone down the overt sales pitch in favour of a greater focus on content which builds authority and trust with the potential for messages to be shared. 

This is the more traditional social media approach and leads to greater engagement and lower dropouts, forming a strong and growing audience.

video Content marketing

Sales messages are downplayed considerably so it takes a bit of a leap of faith coupled with strong marketing skills to create what is essentially going to become a strong source of high-quality leads, akin to those generated from referrals. 

One example of this is the 33 touch campaign run by Keller Williams companies.

In Ireland, this involves a 2 strand approach, developing the agent’s reputation for both professional and local knowledge, tapping into the audience need for estate agents that they can trust both to know the area intimately and be both professionally competent and successful.

Audiences are split by region of interest and receive two communications per month, one focussing on the area ( best restaurants, relevant news stories etc) and the other a market report detailing new listings, price movements and general commentary. 

Selling and listing call to actions are conspicuously absent.

The upshot of this is open rates in the late 20’s and virtually no unsubscribers, leading to a growing audience. Listing enquiries naturally fall out of the process, but there is no push.

From an agent’s perspective, Keller Williams automated marketing tools are linked to the CRM, making lists and campaign management simple minimising the need for marketing support and letting the agent’s personality shine through. Social media posts can also be scheduled automatically from within the platform. 

Monetising your base

Like Google and Facebook before it, Keller Williams has realised that once it has a loyal audience, it has the potential to offer them a range of products and services outside of the core offering.

The products and services it offers need to be relevant and aligned and obviously provided either internally or via aligned, well-vetted but non-competitive providers.

Keller Williams is able to leverage its global reach and size to negotiate good deals on traditional real estate products like mortgages, home improvement loans and insurance, but also recognises that the transition from one home to the next is only relevant for a small portion of its audience, whereas the others are settled homeowners.

growth business analytics

Plumbing, gardening, home warranty and cheaper utilities are much more relevant to the majority of its base and providing compelling offerings is a great way to both provide stickiness and an ongoing revenue stream. 

This isn’t without its pitfalls, however, as the affinity benefit means that whilst a good experience will act as a halo around the brand, any bad experiences with third parties will also negatively impact, so picking the right partners is essential.

It’s also important to limit the offering and ensure offerings are aligned with the core proposition otherwise you risk diluting the brand.

The revenues from cross-sells are rarely high compared with the core proposition, so it doesn’t make sense to lose sight of your core business.

Servicing your base through data mining.

As it transitions to a technology company, Keller Williams is already planning the next-generation technology utilising AI and hyperlocal content to provide an invaluable real estate tool for consumers and agents alike.

On the consumer side, content is localised to a specific address, giving access to a range of services specific to your home, acting as your home’s personal assistant effectively. 

Want to know what your house is worth now or projected into the future? How about what it would be worth rented on Airbnb or Long term rental? The app gives consumers to create their own landing page, with details on their home, its current value, services in the local area and anything else that the homeowner might need.

content

Partnerships with companies like Nextdoor allow additional features like combining the best features of a Facebook, WhatsApp or Justeat in a local, curated group or provide highly localised and differentiated services.

From the corporate side, datamining and AI allow agents to predict when a consumer is likely to be considering a change, prompting a reach out, for example. 

Content remains at the heart of the offering, as effective adopting requires access to service and content which continues to be relevant and useful to consumers.

The benefits, however, are game-changing.

As the go-to app for all of your homeownership and needs, Keller Williams stands to own the consumer’s interaction with their home, and who do you think will be the first person they think of when it comes to selling their home?

The future is relational, not transactional.

Building strong, long-lasting relationships with potential consumers is the future for real estate and this takes courage, patience and a long term approach.

You need to focus on what you can offer your consumer not what they can deliver for you, it really is a buyers market! However, the rewards are potentially huge.

Not only can first movers capture a large share of voice which can be translated into a cost-effective lead flow, but they have the potential to broaden the revenue base for the company and potentially lead to diversification and derisked revenues long into the future.

Need help getting started? Pre-seed finance for startups.

Looking for funding before you start your business? there are a range of options if you've put the work in

No matter what phase your business is at, you’re probably going to need external funding to help you manage your working capital and investment for growth and there are now many options for seed and series funding aimed at helping your business grow. 

If you’re not already involved in the start-up world, there are three key funding phases.

  1. Seed funding. At this stage, investors are looking at a business which a product or idea which is ready to launch, so has a minimum viable product, clearly defined marketing and sales channels and a properly structured operations plan. Funding can come from angel investors, small VC’s or crowdfunding.
  2. Series funding. This is the growth phase of the business, it’s set up with a strong team in place and is looking to scale it’s market and product portfolio. There may be several funding rounds as the company grows with money coming from VC’s or accelerators in return for equity.
  3. Exit round. Traditionally this was the IPO round, where capital is released from the business through listing on the stock exchange, but this could be an acquisition. 

But what about before you start? 

What is pre-seed funding?

A business takes money and resources to get started before an investor will even look at your business seriously, so where does the money come from to fund this?

Pre-seed funding has traditionally been entrepreneur lead, and 80% of businesses are still set up with funding from their owners, who typically put in around $10k to “bootstrap” their businesses. However, there are other options.

The Pre-seed stage.

As any entrepreneur or small business owner will tell you, the hard work starts long before the business is set up. This is the R+D stage during which you’ll be checking out your idea, researching the market and developing your business model and product prior to the initial launch.

You’ll need to be able to define your market, demonstrate your solution’s unique fit with the markets pain points, identify how you will monetise your business and show a proof-of-concept or minimum viable product.

Where can pre-seed funding come from?

Bootstrapping is still the most common source of finance for new businesses, where the owners use their own capital to provide funding and resources for the growth through its initial stages. 

In many cases, the initial work will be done by the owner in their spare time whilst still in full-time employment, but there are limits and this is high risk, especially if you’re working in a similar field, or for a company that has specific IP or anti-competition clauses in its employment contracts. 

In any event, there will still be a capital requirement if you need to buy stock, secure premises or involve third parties in developing your product.

Friends and family Pre-seed funding

Many owners secure funding from their sphere of influence, utilising friends and families as sources of cash or resources, and this makes a lot of sense, especially if you have contacts with specialist skills or free cash.

However, business and pleasure don’t mix well, so it’s worth treating your circle like external investors. Give them a proper pitch and make sure you have an agreement in place which clearly defines the terms of the arrangement and what both parties expect.

The government

Many local and national governments promote private enterprise and will provide access to grants, loans and support for relevant businesses throughout their development. 

As an example, Ireland is one of the best countries to do business in and is very startup-friendly offering a wide range of supports for potential exporters and employers.

Ireland is a small island nation with a small population and therefore limited domestic demands it needs to build export markets in order to grow economically. 

Start-up support begins at a local level with each council providing resources, training and grants to promote small business creation and growth. Local enterprise offices provide access to micro business loans, feasibility and business expansion grants aimed at creating jobs and economic prosperity in the local area.

For larger businesses, especially those with export potential, Enterprise Ireland provides seed funding and venture capital finance programmes helping business to grow as well as feasibility and collaboration grants and funds, incubator and accelerator support, plus access to a wide range of in-country offices to promote local networking development. 

Once you are set up, support is also available to minimise the cashflow impact of taxation, with relief available for entrepreneurs investing their own capital into a start-up and relief on corporation tax for new start ups.

MicroVC's, Incubators and competitions

growth business analytics

The current low investment environment has shifted investors away from low-risk vehicles like bonds and into higher risk opportunities, but in order to secure higher returns they need to diversify their portfolios away from a reliance on high-value stocks into venture capital.

This influx of funds has created a range of pre-seed options for new businesses more suited to the embryonic stage of a new business. Unlike traditional VC or Banking approaches, application and acceptance can be much easier, but this comes at the expense of either higher equity, lower investment or higher interest rates, reflecting the greater risk to the investor.

Cloudfunding websites like Kickstarter, WeFunder and Fundable let small businesses attract investments from potential fans and customers, delivering both finance and consumer interest.

Pitch competitions give entrepreneurs the chance to fine-tune their pitch before they go into the market, often with capital or a place in an accelerator or incubator as the ultimate prize.

Obviously some VC’s and Angel investor networks also carry pre-seed funds, but these can be difficult to reach and may require an introduction and follow a more rigorous application process.

How to attract funding

No matter what the source or external funding, you can expect the process to be rigorous and competitive. At the very least you will need to have a good pitch and a strong core team and a proof of concept for your product will usually help. 

Most pre-seed investors are not expecting a fully realised business though, so don’t feel you need to boil the ocean, the concept should be enough to attract investors if it’s obvious how it will heal the pain points.

Your business plan needs to focus not on how big you think you will be, but how you will deliver in the short and long term. In product terms that means two things

  1. Be aligned with the customer’s pain points. Pain points are areas crying out for a solution and therefore in high demand from consumers and offering a real competitive advantage. The more benefit you can delver the more the customer will value your product, safeguarding revenue and helping you attract switchers from traditional products
  2. Ease of access. No matter how good your product is, if the customer can’t access it easily, they won’t buy it. Simple marketing, product design and delivery are the hallmarks of the fastest-growing companies from Airbnb to Uber

The longest journey starts with a single step

Most pre-seed funding is designed to get you to the next level, not to IPO, so your business plan needs to focus on what you want to achieve in the next 6-12 months. 

More to the point, business changes so rapidly that what you expect to do in a year’s time may be totally different to what you have to do once you get there. You will develop too and your experience, outlook and skills may well take you off on a different route to get to the ultimate goal. 

Many investors are looking for evidence that you can actually deliver on the expectation, not just sell a great idea, so have a clear roadmap of activity to get you from A to B, let alone Z.

Your vision may be to be the next Stripe, but what do you need to do today, tomorrow and next month in order to get there? Consider each phase carefully, outlining why it’s on your roadmap, how you are going to achieve it, and where you’ll go from there.

Develop authority and awareness

Authority is a key concept in online and offline marketing. It’s a realisation that what you say is credible, reliable and trusted and can have a significant impact on whether your message is received and accepted. 

In digital marketing, Domain authority is the currency of SEO and dictates whether your page is top of the pile or hidden below the fold. In content marketing, it defines whether your articles and blog posts are shared or ignored. 

As you set up your business and look for funding, widespread awareness of the problem you are solving allows you to position a solution much easier. This lets you create hype and interest in the domain before you bring your product to the market, and if done correctly, means you will have created an audience primed for your commercial message in advance of the launch. 

Ideas don’t make money, delivery makes money. Investors are looking for a business leader that can see, build and deliver solutions which meet the needs of a large addressable market. They don’t just want to see that you can come up with ideas, they want to know that you can create and implement a coherent and effective plan.

Be the expert

Ideas don’t make money, delivery makes money. Investors are looking for a business leader that can see, build and deliver solutions which meet the needs of a large addressable market. They don’t just want to see that you can come up with ideas, they want to know that you can create and implement a coherent and effective plan.

Picking the right business model for Estate Agency

Hybrid Estate Agent

Like most businesses, the death knell for Estate Agency was rung by the emergence of online portals which promised to allow the seller to cut out the middle man, with transparency of the transaction through sophisticated online portals, essentially facilitating a DIY approach to real estate sales. 

But did it ring too soon?

Online builds for the future

The online market was touted as the future, and major brokers like emoov and Purplebricks captured market share, especially at the lower end of the scale, being able to offer consistency and low costs through economies of scale.

However, building a new business model, especially one based on huge upfront investment in technology and marketing, is not without its issues as seen by profit warnings from large player like Purplebricks, and the high profile administration of eMoov, who cited cashflow issues even though listings were paid upfront, demonstrate online agencies are struggling to find traction in a largely people-based business.

Purplebricks Accounts for 2018 show marketing spend of £382 per listing on marketing, up 25% on prior year, showing how expensive it can be to build brand awareness and engagement in a business traditionally dominated by high levels of service and personal reputation.

Ultimately, your house is the most expensive transaction you will ever embark on, so trust is essential, and as yet, a large proportion of the public is still not comfortable trusting an online agency with the such a large transaction

Purplebricks is undoubtedly playing the long game, it knows that combining a strong brand awareness with a growing customer business will translate into higher lead flow in the future, so it’s prepared to invest in the short term to reap rewards for the future, but many businesses are not in the same boat, especially the traditional High street agents.

The future for the high street retailer?

With falling prices and lower commissions, high street estate agents are finding revenues declining at a time when costs, especially retail lease prices are climbing at up to 5% per annum, the pinch coming for the high street agents.

The decline of estate agents has been forecast for years, as online businesses with low operating costs drove down the commissions much to the benefit of homeowners, but there was still a strong market on the high street with footfall driving walk-in enquiries and acting as a strong shop window for local listings.

But the economics are changing.

High street footfall is declining, which is leading to lower occupancy rates, as the High street becomes a less attractive retail destination for consumers. At the same time, retail leases are becoming more expensive, with a growth of 5% per annum in lease costs alone.

As the housing market begins to slow, average house prices are dropping at 2.5% per annum, and commissions are dropping closer to 1%, further squeezing the margins for independent estate agents around the country.

The rise of the Hybrid

In the US, hybrid estate agency models, where self-employed agents are supported by third-party shared service providers are the norm, with centralised offices hosting 100+ independent agents offering significantly diluted costs for the selling agent.

Businesses like Keller Williams have recognised that in order for agents to be successful they need to deliver across 4 fronts.

Help agents create a strong personal brand

Keller Williams is not a real estate company, it’s closer to the traditional model of a shared services/BPO provider. This means, that, unlike other franchise or national brands, it’s agents operate as separate entities and brands with Keller Williams providing the support and infrastructure to develop those companies.

This means that the agent’s personal brand is at the forefront. The company encourages each agent to develop and promote this brand to the marketplace, rather than a dry, generic corporate brand. The agent is the focus.

Operate in a low-cost environment

Hybrid estate agency models tend to be based on a centralised facilities model, meaning that fixed costs such as rent, utilities and IT management, key holding etc. are diluted substantially across a much larger agent base, with 30-50 agents bearing a fraction of the total cost of a location. 

Such central locations also offer marketing, IT, Business and Admin support at low costs, as the services can be provided more efficiently and effectively.

Clear focus on relational vs transactional selling

Purplebricks and hybrid estate agent facilitator Keller Williams are obviously focussing on the long term, knowing that the value of businesses is more closely linked to the size of its contact base than it’s immediate transactions.

Focussing on minimising the cost structure takes away the cashflow risk and allows Estate agents to focus as much on building a pipeline for the future, leading to referral and listing business, as marketing existing listings.

A strong scalable technology platform

Technology will become the backbone of the offering going forward, with expert systems and simplified UI delivering efficient management from the initial listing through to sales processing and billing which lets the agent spend more time actually selling and providing service. 

Increased adopting of AI has created new offerings and services, with companies like Nextdoor seeking to own the consumer by providing predictive hyperlocal service offerings tailored to the individual needs of the consumer, based on their user history and location.

Inbound marketing flavours. Am I a growth hacker or a demand generator?

And does it matter????

As an entrepreneur, the range of inbound marketing approaches can be confusing, but what is the real difference and which one is right for me?

Inbound marketing has a reputation for buzzwords, from Aida to Zeitgeist the marketing world naturally creates niches within itself, replete with its own language and cachet.  

Demand generators look down on lead gen specialists, whereas growth hackers are the new hipsters.

But what really is the difference, and, for small businesses, does it really matter??

The short answer is yes and no. 

Yes, because it’s important to apply the right tools to the right problem.

No, because we have to be able to jump from one mindset to the next as required. 

Inbound marketing has the potential to drive growth faster and at a lower cost than traditional sales activities or outbound marketing, but has become a complex field with lots of subtle flavours.

Growing your business fast requires an understanding of these flavours, and which ones are right for your business now.

Inbound marketing vs outbound marketing

The umbrella term for this is inbound marketing, which is business methodology aimed at attracting the attention of individuals with a level of interest in a particular subject through content and experience that they will value and enjoy.

It’s the opposite of the invasive sales and operations led approaches like spam emails, mass, untreated advertising and cold calling. Tools which are being progressively legislated out of existence.

Inbound marketing puts control in the hands of the consumer, and asks their permission to receive information, whether through explicit opt-in statements or by making consumers actively decide to view the content. 

The first soap operas are a great example of inbound marketing. The messages were clear, “our products are an essential part of the modern domestic lifestyle’, but the media was more subtle and in a form that viewers enjoyed consuming.

Nowadays this has become search marketing, content marketing, social media, all of which require the audience to find and consume the media to receive the message. 

Whilst this may seem an expensive and risky communication strategy, the payoff is much better engagement, offering greater influence and higher conversion.

However, it needs to tie together and have a clear focus on the endpoint of repeat sales, rather than pure brand awareness.

The importance of the inbound marketing funnel.

The inbound marketing funnel is a great tool for two reasons:

  1. It acknowledges that there are different audiences out there with varying degrees of interest and motivation
  2. It recognises that a percentage of these audiences can be motivated to move towards an end goal with the right process

What this means is that we need to link together a series of relevant marketing tools to migrate people through to an endpoint.

We start with educational, informative and engaging content to reinforce interest in a problem attracting a wide audience and gaining their permission to communicate with.  

This is classic demand generation, which raises the profile of the problem, not it’s solutions, placing the need top of mind for consumers, priming the pump and creating the demand.

This leads to more specific, connected and solutions-focused content to guide users to narrow their solution set. 

Finally, relevant and timely content on how our specific product and provider are the solution of choice leads to one to one communication, creating an opportunity to sell.

This level uses valuable calls to action to either create a conversation, or prompt buyer behaviour and is modern lead generation.

The funnel also recognises that the customer has to buy into the process. They need to engage and want to take the relationship further, so marketing becomes more about influence than interruption, asking people to opt-in, rather than trapping them into a relationship. 

This means it needs to be subtle, add value as part of a product and consistent with the company’s ability to deliver on promises made.

Inbound marketing people are engineers

Marketing is complex. It uses a wide range of tools to accomplish different tasks, using well thought out messages to influence its audience in multiple ways. 

Large enterprises and small start-ups have disparate needs, objectives and resources, which also require different skill sets. Growth hacking and Viral marketing emerged from the need for startups to achieve rapid scalable growth with little or no resources and championed the inclusion of marketing in the product itself.

Linkedin’s email upload which allowed you to invite all of your contacts to join Linkedin or Hotmail’s inclusion of a subscription link on each of its users’ emails being obvious examples. 

In this respect, marketing has become like engineering. It’s not about inventing something new each time, but measuring performance and making small iterative improvements using a range of specialist tools. In fact, part of the original definition of growth hacking included the ability to code and create products, not just market them.

So where does that leave me?

As a small business owner looking to expand their marketing activities with limited resources, getting the right strategy is key and should dictate the skills and competencies you want to recruit.

If you have an original, easily amendable product or service with a freemium option and little money, then growth hacking will fit your purpose, as it’s the focus is on creating a viral product, instead of a viral message.

If you struggle to gain traction for your product because the problem it solves is not a high priority, or the solution too complex to explain, demand generation is where you need to look, as you need to raise the profile of the issue and build authority and credibility before you can sell the solution.

If you’re operating in a mature market and looking to build market share, your focus will be on creative positioning and promoting conversations, hence lead generation is the key priority, although you may need to incorporate other approaches to give you an edge.

Even if you’re not in a position to hack your product to make it viral, Growth hacking’s marketing approaches and focus on growth are still worth looking at. It acts as a type of lean marketing which and can drive fast growth and create cut through, so definitely worth a look.

Location, location, location…The importance of hyperlocal marketing in local businesses

The Internet is full of people willing to tell you how to leverage globalisation and advertising to create niches giving you a global reach, but for the vast majority of businesses, their customers are more local and time-bound.

With banner blindness growing and voice searches increasing, marketing and sales will become more “hyperlocal”, so it’s time to optimise your marketing to capture the fastest-growing search term – “near me” which are growing by over 250% each year.

What's driving the growth

The general model of marketing suggests that people will identify a need, spend time researching for a solution and then make a choice from a set of product and supplier options. 

However, consumers are becoming less patient and more impetuous. We know what we want and we want it now, and, as we’re searching on our mobiles, we want it here!

Time has become a factor in decision making, and consumers are willing to pay a little more and travel to collect goods, rather than pay for shipping and wait for delivery, which has lead to the growth of “click to collect” delivery option, as people become more time-constrained. Therefore distance to the product has become more relevant. 

This is obviously true for restaurants and events, where the opportunity exists now, as people make snap decisions to eat out or find a different pub or club when out. 

Marketers are now talking about “micro-moments”, opportunities that exist now, but won’t be repeated, so you need to structure your marketing to capture them.

How does this work?

Whether you’re on your phone or desktop, your ISP needs to know where you are, so records your general location, unless you tell it not too, and most people don’t.

When you conduct a local search, for example, “ restaurants near me”, Google prioritises results close to your location and will rank these higher than the more general results. In addition, Google gives the user the option to view locations on a map, making results easier to navigate to. 

Your webpages and site need to be optimised to catch this traffic. If you have a physical location, you need to make sure this is reflected on Google maps. If you’re servicing a specific area, your SEO needs to reflect this.

So how do you go about making your site Local Friendly?

There are lots of obvious ways that you can tag your location, from simply tagging your location on Google maps and setting up a Google MyBusiness Profile to including location-specific code in your Header which will be categorised by search engines to recognise your location.

Obviously, as location-based searches are most relevant to mobile users, making sure your site is mobile friendly is a must.

But, like all websites, optimising the content is by far the most effective tool to make your site hyperlocal.

This means making sure your content is relevant to the area you are targeting and the people who’re living there. Make sure you link to local businesses and reference local events and example. Include local pictures rather than generic stock images, as these are instantly recognisable to local searchers, and familiarity breeds comfort!

See past the organic. Hyperlocal as a brand value

If Estate Agency is all about “location, location, location”, then having a reputation for being the leading agent in that location is obviously going to position you strongly with prospective buyers and sellers.

Castle Estate Agents espouses the Keller Williams touchpoint culture which emphasis nurturing relationships with a discrete audience who are likely to either be in the market for a home in the future or be in a position to influence other potential buyers and sellers.

With a large database of contacts, the company make extensive use of targeted, engaging email content to both keep contact and reinforce the company’s positioning for professionalism and local knowledge within specific geographical regions.

Castle segments its audience based on geographical interest and sends regular emails that provide relevant local content to residents, whether it’s showcasing new or popular restaurants, highlighting upcoming events or discussing matters of local importance such as major planning approvals or infrastructural work.

Buying or selling homes isn’t mentioned once. It’s all focussed on what’s relevant to the audience at a hyperlocal level.

And it’s paid off considerably.

Open rates have more than doubled across the board ( trebled where video content is used!) and unsubscribe rates are non-existent, so the base is growing rapidly and more engaged than before.

This success has migrated down the funnel as well, with listings up more than 55% since the campaign began and an increase in referral business

Location is going to be one of the most important criteria for customer-facing businesses over the next few years, as consumers seek the fastest need fulfilment, so optimising your presence for hyperlocal searches will position your business as the supplier of choice for the local minded consumer.

Holes not drills

Coaching and mentoring

Customers are looking for solutions not features, so your comms need to talk less about what you do and more about how you solve their problems.

One of my favourite comments about marketing is from Thomas Levitt, who said “People don’t want 1/4″ drills, they want 1/4″ holes”.

What he’s talking about is the importance of understanding why your potential customer is looking for a solution, what motivates them to either seek a solution proactively either online or by visiting your store, or makes them receptive to your call. It also helps to define whether they see value in what you’ve got to offer.

Taking Levitt’s analogy a stage further, we know instinctively that the vast majority of people don’t wake up in the morning with an overriding urge to buy a drill bit ( if you do, then great! more power to you!), what they want to do is hang a picture or put up a shelf and buying a drill is just one solution.

One of the most common mistakes entrepreneurs face when selling is knowing the difference between the features of a product and its application. They feel that the features they’ve developed and the hurdles they’ve overcome have value and this is generally related to how difficult they were to develop or how clever the solution. However, this misses the fundamental reason why people buy things, they want to solve their problems.

Regardless of whether you are B2B or B2C, your potential customers are people.

They wake up in the morning (or in the middle of the night) and have problem they need to solve or an objective they need to reach. How you help them achieve this is your value, your benefit.

This has implications in a number of areas. If affects your communication, your product design and your sales approach.

How easily and completely you deliver the solution is the level of value that you provide, and will define what people think your service is worth, so it is essential that you understand  customer needs and how you can meet them